Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Reflection on the Discovery of a New Fossil Human Species

By John Long

The discovery of a new ancient human is a reminder about how much we’ve modified the planet.

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Henry Fairfield Osborn, the former President of the American Museum of Natural History (1908–33) is well-known as the scientist who first studied and named Tyrannosaurus rex in 1905. He was also passionate about human evolution. In his book published in 1916, Men of the Old Stone Age, he wrote: “I am perhaps more proud of having helped to redeem the character of the cave-man than of any other single achievement of mine in the field of anthropology”.

Following the announcement of the faked fossil of Piltdown Man, made up of a lower jaw of an orangutan fitted to a modern human skull, Osborn developed his own theory that all apes had evolved entirely parallel to the ancestors of humans. This indeed is more or less how we regard our own evolution today.

The last common ancestor of the split between modern apes (gorillas chimps and orangutans) has now been dated using molecular methods and fossils to an event 5–7 million years ago.

Humans have a long evolutionary history dating back to a series of ape-like hominids called australopithecines that lived between 4 and 2 million years ago in Africa. The first fossils attributed to the genus Homo, in which we belong as Homo sapiens sapiens, is Homo habilis dated between 2.8–1.5 million years ago. This is based on various features but principally its larger cranial capacity of 550–687 cc, which is much larger...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.